Senate must pass health care

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Credit: Song

Credit: Song

Remember the debate over President Obama’s health care plan? It wasn’t that long ago that people were bringing guns to town hall meetings where shouting and jeering dominated civilized conversation.

Although the furor over health care may have died down: the newspapers aren’t filled with pictures of screaming, finger-pointing Tea Partiers: the debate is far from over. On Oct. 13, the Senate Finance Committee, led by Montana senator Max Baucus, passed its version of a health care reform bill.

Although imperfect, the Finance Committee bill contains meaningful reforms. The Senate leadership should work to improve the bill by including some form of a public health care plan, but if they cannot, it still must pass.

Before moving to a vote on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid must meld the Finance Committee bill with a more liberal health care bill passed earlier this year by the Senate Health Committee.

The Finance Committee version of health care reform has divided Democrats. The bill does not contain the so-called public option, a government-run health care plan designed to lower premiums. Instead, the Finance Committee bill provides for non-profit health cooperatives.

Many progressive Democrats insist that they will not vote for any bill that does not contain a public option. Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), insisted that improvements must be made to the Finance Committee bill on the Senate floor. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) warned that the bill “is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough.”

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to rail against all versions. Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) claimed that the bill will “raise taxes significantly and it’s going to raise them on a lot of average Americans.”

Ideally, health care reform would include a government-run public option. A public option would be the best way to reduce health care costs and provide coverage for all Americans.

Although the Finance Committee bill lacks a public option, it includes many other needed reforms. The bill would provide subsidies for low-income Americans to purchase health care, prevent medical bankruptcies by capping health care expenses and prohibit insurance companies from cruelly denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

If the public option were included in a final Senate bill, it would not gather a single Republican vote and might not attract enough moderate Democrats to pass. Thus, Senator Reid and the Democratic leadership should consider the so-called “trigger plan.”

The trigger plan would not initially include a public option, but if the insurance industry did not reduce average health care costs below a specific threshold, a public health plan would come into effect. The trigger option could satisfy both progressive demands for a public health care plan and moderate calls for gradual reform.

Even if the Senate leadership is unable to include a trigger in the final bill, the Finance Committee bill must pass. Committees have delivered momentous reform bills to both the House and Senate floors. We have come closer to meaningful health care reform than any point in the past forty years and we must not stop now.

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